“Nostalgia is memory filtered through disproportionate emotion. Faith is memory filtered through appropriate gratitude” (David Bartlett, “Feasting on the Word Year A”). These are words that stopped me in my tracks in the midst of my exegetical work for this Sunday’s sermon, words that have caused me to reevaluate my own memories, feelings and anxiety this Advent.
As a personal spiritual practice during Advent, the beginning of the liturgical year, I attempt to spend time reflecting on the past year as I prepare to celebrate again the coming of Christ. So far, the extent of my personal reflection has been grumbling and lamenting about the past year and the challenges it held. 2016 hasn’t been an easy year and I have struggled to live into Advent hope.
During 2016 my church struggled with illness and loss; 12 members joined the church triumphant. During 2016 my dad, after living with and fighting pancreatic cancer, died at home. During 2016 we lived through a vile, hateful and divisive election that ended in an outcome that I did not expect or hope for. Terror attacks, Zika, police shootings, Syria, Trump, Brexit, out of control fires, Standing Rock, numerous losses of notable people… and the list could go on.
Nostalgia leads me to look at this year and call it one of the worst ones in my memory. Nostalgia causes me to wish for last Christmas when my father was still alive and the possibility still existed for a more unified country.
Faith asks me to look differently. Faith calls me to see hope, even when all of the evidence is to the contrary. When I filter my memory through gratitude I see how even in the midst of personal grief and pain, I was surrounded by friends who upheld me and witnessed to God’s presence with me. I see how relationships with my colleagues and parishioners deepened as I allowed my independent self to be cared for, instead of always doing the caring. I remember the gift of a month away to travel this summer, where I could just “be” and soak in God’s creation. Faith leads me to gratitude for the ways that I have seen people stand up to hate and care for God’s children.
Faith does not erase the pain of the past year or allow us to give up responsibility for God’s promised future. Faith assures us that as we wait for Christ to be born again this Christmas, we know that he has already come. We look forward by looking back.
“Nostalgia is memory filtered through disproportionate emotion. Faith is memory filtered through appropriate gratitude.”
This Advent I need to let go of nostalgia, but not of my memories. As I look back and see God’s faithfulness present even in the darkness, I find hope for the future. Glennon Doyle Melton wrote on her blog, “I know that everything is scary right now. I just keep reminding myself that the two most repeated phrases in my holy text are DO NOT BE AFRAID and REMEMBER.”
Faith calls us to remember with gratitude and to rise above fear together. “Do not be afraid; for see I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). As I once again prepare for Christ’s coming I am seeking to remember and to not be afraid, to live into a faith and hope grounded in the promises of God, even as I wait for the glorious new creation that is to come.
KRISTIN STROBLE serves as the pastor of Heritage Presbyterian Church in Youngstown, Ohio. She enjoys coffee, books, running and spending time outdoors.